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Ancient Mollusk Discovered Under the Arctic

Dec 10, 2014 09:28 PM EST
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Wallerconcha sarae
Nearly four years ago, geological surveys of the Arctic Ocean seafloor revealed the presence of shells buried deep in its sediment. Now researchers have analyzed these specimens to discover something astounding: they are million-year-old bivalve mollusks - a new genus and species of their own to add to the fossil records.
(Photo : Paul Valentich-Scott (modified))

Nearly four years ago, geological surveys of the Arctic Ocean seafloor revealed the presence of shells buried deep in its sediment. Now researchers have analyzed these specimens to discover something astounding: they are million-year-old bivalve mollusks - a new genus and species of their own to add to the fossil records.

The shells were first discovered in the summer of 2010, when researcher Brian Edwards was in the midst of an expedition to map the Arctic sea floor, taking deep sediment core samples along the way to further geological understanding of this important region.

The Arctic seafloor has become a hot topic for geologists and climatologists alike in these recent years, as it has been revealed that it likely contains methane hydrates - trapped pockets of the carbon-heavy compound that could melt in warming waters, releasing the greenhouse gas into our atmosphere to further climate change. Similar releases have recently been found off the West Coast of the Northern US.

However, hydrates weren't what Edwards found during this expedition. Upon returning to his US Geological Survey (USGS) laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif., he worked with Tom Lorenson to extract these newfound shells. USGS paleontologist Chuck Powell was then able to determine that what they were looking at were clam shells, but he couldn't recognize the species. That's where Paul Valentich-Scott, a clam specialist from the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in California, was able to step up to the plate, determining that the ancient clams were a species that they had never seen before.

"It is always exciting when you are the first person to be looking at a new creature," Valentich-Scott said in a recent statement. "While I have been fortunate to discover and describe many new species in my career, it is always exhilarating at the outset."

In a study recently published in the journal Zoo Keys, the collaborating researcher named the new species Wallerconcha sarae, where the genus was chosen to honor Thomas R. Waller, a prominent paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution, while sarae reflects the name of Powell's daughter, Sara.

 For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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